BOONE — The day following the 50 year anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City — an event that is credited with the start of the LGBTQ+ rights movement — a local group hosted a march in downtown Boone on June 29.

The grassroots group identified on Facebook as High Country Pride started the march from Foggy Pines Books to the Jones House alongside more than 100 participants. Laura Kacere said High Country Pride was thrilled with the “overwhelmingly positive response we received from the community around this event.”

During the event, Kristen Benson made mention to groups such as Out in the High Country and the former High Country Pride. The former High Country Pride organization disbanded in 2017.

People chanted sayings such as “L.G.B.T., we demand equality,” during the march. Once at the Jones House, Benson gave a brief history of the Stonewall event of 1969.

On June 28 of that year, a community in New York City “fought back against insufferable police brutality afflicted on LGBTQ+ community and patrons of the Stonewall Inn,” Benson said. According to the organization of NYC Pride, police had raided an underground gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village of the city. Community members became tired of these ongoing raids and decided to fight back in what is now known as the Stonewall riots.

Since then, marches have been led around the nation to commemorate the LGBTQ+ movement during Pride Month in June.

“Pride is often a celebration — a moment to look at the progress that has been made,” Benson said to the June 29 march attendees. “Friends, let’s remember that while gaining marriage equality was pivotal, our work is far from over.”

Those in the LGBTQ+ community face increased rates of addiction, depression and suicide, Benson said.

“Not because we are broken, but as the result of living in a transphobic and homophobic culture perpetuated by elected officials in the highest ranks of our government,” Benson said. “We must change that.”

Others who spoke at the rally mentioned struggles the LGBTQ+ community are still facing 50 years after Stonewall.

Summer Wisdom, a High Country local, serves on the board member for Equality NC — a statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group. She acknowledged the murder of Chanel Scurlock — a transgender black woman in Lumberton — just this year. Wisdom added that this “incident of violence ... reflects the ongoing epidemic against trans people of color in this community.”

Attendees also heard from Lauryn Reeder, the social programs director for an advocacy group called Tranzmission out of Asheville. Reeder mentioned a black trans 17-year-old who had been murdered that week.

“This fight is not over,” Reeder said. “Stonewall is still happening. We can be proud and out and still realize that there’s so much left to fight for. Not everyone has the privilege to be out, to be here and to be alive right now.”

A moment of silence was held to allow those standing in the courtyard of the Jones House to remember those in the LGBTQ+ community who had been victimized.

A representative of OASIS (Opposing Abuse with Service, Information and Shelter), Sara Crouch, spoke about how the organization aids survivors of interpersonal violence and sexual assault in the High Country. She added that OASIS does so regardless of sexuality, gender identity or immigration status.

“We want you guys to know that we’re here as a support system in the community,” Crouch said.

Also wanting to show support to those in the LGBTQ+ community was Tamara Franks, the pastor at High Country United Church of Christ. Franks discussed how the national United Church of Christ passed a resolution in 2005 recognizing marriage equality. Franks added that everyone is created in the image of God.

“How long before churches all across the world will understand that when Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love the lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself that he meant each and every one of us?” Franks said. “As we in the church continue to struggle with these commandments to love our neighbor ... there are those of us that are pushing against that wall and continue to say ‘How long will it take for each and every one of us to understand that who you love is who you love and may it be a gift of God and may we celebrate that?’”

Franks told those at the march that all were welcome “each and every time our doors are open” at High Country UCC. This march would also not be the last, according to Franks. She said the community was having a renewed commitment to hosting these marches and that it would not be a “one and done.”

The newly created High Country Pride had been formed a few weeks prior to the march by “a few folks in the community who wanted to make some change in Boone,” Benson said. Benson added that High County Pride hopes to continue developing as a coalition group and offer future community events.

For more information on High Country Pride, visit www.facebook.com/HighCountryPride or contact pridehighcountry@gmail.com.

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